Apple Zealots Hurt Apple

by C.K. Sample III Aug 26, 2004

Let me start this off by stating for the record that I love Apple machines, I love OS X (I also used to really like OS 7.5 through OS 9), and I love my iPod.  Also, for the record, I do not like Microsoft as an operating system, any box running Microsoft that isn’t built by the end user him- / herself is usually too flaky for my tastes, I abhor a great deal of Microsoft’s monopolistic business practices, and I think each iteration of Windows is a buggier piece of ugly, hacked-together, security-hole-ridden bloat-ware than the last (with the exception of Windows ME, which currently holds the title for buggiest Windows rendition in my book).

Now, after saying all that, I would like to say that I hate Mac zealots.  In fact, I believe that rather than being the anchor that keeps Apple grounded, as some may argue, Mac zealots are the number one reason why Apple holds the small market-share that they currently do.  The number two reason is simply because of numerous bad business decisions in the past (most of which were probably made in light of the horrible responses received from the Mac Zealots).

Whenever I talk to regular computer users about why I use Apple machines and prefer the Mac OS, they usually throw up the regular arguments:  “Macs are too expensive”, “I hear you can’t find software for Macs”, or “I’m too used to Windows and would be lost on a Mac.”  I then counter with the regular rebuttals:  “You get what you pay for / they tend to last longer”, “Most of the popular software available for PC is also available for Mac, there’s lots of OpenSource and free software available for the Mac, and, with the exception of games, you can always run Virtual PC”, and “It takes an initial bit to learn the basic differences, but I think you’d find for the most part that it is much simpler and a more natural interface.” 

However, one out of every 5 of the regular users, and nearly every non-Mac IT person that I speak with will say something like, “You’re not one of those mac freaks are you?”  There is a concern among non-Mac users that there is a sort of cult phenomenon surrounding the Mac world (and this stigma is played upon by such recent popular blogs as Wired’s Cult of Mac).  This concern is born from the Mac zealots.  These are the people that will not tolerate any criticism of Apple.  They are the people who will most likely not only flame the comments of this article should they read it, but post about this article on numerous discussion boards, asking for other Mac-faithful to come to the defense of Apple, the Apple-faithful, and to silence this Mac-hater-C.K.-guy.

But that’s the problem.  I’m not a Mac-hater.  I am a Mac lover.  Also, most PC users aren’t Mac-haters.  They’re just unfamiliar with Macs and ambivalent toward Apple.  These could-be switchers see the blind devotion of the Mac zealot and react normally to that devotion: they shun it and anything associated with it.  I honestly believe that a lot more people would be switchers if they had not noticed the cult-like following of the Mac.  Fortunately, there is a positive cult of the iPod that is countermanding much of this negative spin for Apple and making more people switchers than would have been in the past.

However, there’s another problem with the Mac zealots, and maybe this one isn’t even exclusively with the Mac zealots.  I think this problem may extend into some of the regular non-zealots, who have left their grey-boxed PC behind and now love their Macs.  I’d say many people have a sort of fear that if they criticize Apple or complain about their Macs, then Apple will crumble, they will lose their Apple, and be exiled to a grey-boxed, Windows-only world.  There’s not anything wrong with loving your Mac and what all it does for you.  However, I think that we all have a responsibility as consumers to hold Apple responsible for their mistakes so that they are forced to not let those mistakes continue, and this is where many Mac users fail Apple.

For example, I’d say at least three out of the last 5 Apple computers I have owned or worked with have had a serious problem and have needed to be replaced.  That’s not good numbers and it points to production flaws in the Apple machine, as well as contradicting my earlier assertion that “you get what you pay for” with Macs. 

Here’s a slightly more detailed example:  Go to the 12inchPowerbooks Yahoo!Group and take a look over the archives.  You will find an inordinate number of posts discussing the major production flaw of the 12-inch Powerbooks: they warp / come pre-warped.  When you place them on a flat surface a large percentage of every iteration of the 12-inch Powerbooks wobble. Why didn’t Apple fix this after the first round of them came hot off the press?  Read some of those posts more closely and you will discover why: because not enough people bother to complain about it.  Many of them say that it is not that big of a problem and that they love their little Powerbook anyway.  There are several threads discussing exactly what type of rubber feet to buy from where to affix to the bottom of the Powerbook to “fix” the problem, rather than having to go to the bother of sending it back to Apple. There are even discussions about how to best bend the Powerbook to get it back to a non-wobbling state.  That is ludicrous and probably not too good for the Powerbook’s innards.  But these otherwise intelligent and logical people are overlooking this problem, because it is a Mac. 

This behavior isn’t protecting and helping Apple.  It is hurting Apple.  Apple needs to address these flaws, but it’s not cost-effective if not enough people report it.  I returned my first Powerbook because it wobbled.  I walked into the Apple Store, I argued calmly but forcibly with the manager of the store, and I was given a brand new non-wobbling 12-inch to replace my 4-day-old wobbling one.  Did I love that first wobbling one?  Yes.  But I loved the second one a lot more and I felt a lot better about having spent $1700 on a laptop that didn’t wobble than I did on the one that did. (If interested, you can search my site for posts entitled “This warping thing” for more of my ranting about this issue).

So what’s the point?  Complain.  Return defective products.  Put yourself through the hassle.  Don’t be an Apple zealot who berates people who criticize Apple.  Be an Apple enthusiast who loves Apple but actively holds Apple accountable for their products (if anyone at Apple is reading this, please make .mac less buggy).  This will both help improve Apple products and it will be better PR for Apple than the current search and destroy methods of the Apple zealots and the happy embrace of Apple products, flaws and all, by the Mac faithful.


  • wow. at last some mac user is in the same boat as iAm

    iLove apple and the Mac, but i really hate how SOME mac users are soo negative when it comes to stuff that are not made by apple, especially Microsoft. things like competing with apple will always loose the debate with mac user.

    mac zealots give us mac users a really bad name. and i don’t like that.

    Phillip had this to say on Aug 27, 2004 Posts: 1
  • Zealotry is just another name for passion. There’s nothing wrong with it. There is something wrong with production problems that shouldn’t exist. It’s not necessarily zealots forgiving apple for these problems, some people are just non-confrontational in nature. To be called a Mac freak is a compliment. I don’t want to compute like of the people out there.

    hmurchison had this to say on Aug 27, 2004 Posts: 145
  • I think you are just describing normal life - there are zealots and logical people for any issue. Any issue surrounding Election 2004 is a great example of that.

    That mac zealots are responsible for the minority share? You already countered that statement yourself: Microsoft has monopolistic business practices… driving not just Apple but BeOS, Amiga OS, Linux, Sun, etc. into a minority in the market. There are a multitude of other reasons of Apple’s “failure” to be more widespread. 

    The problem with a statement like “3 of my 5 apple products had a serious problem” is that you cannot project your limited experience to millions of customers and many millions of products. This commentary is the Slashdot syndrome: everyone is correct when based on a limited set of information. And boy do they post comments based on this syndrome.

    The reality is this: Consumer Reports did a survey of 39,000 readers - and Apple came out on top for reliability.

    And not just pure hardware reliability, but also customer support.

    Mac as a cult is specifically why their brand value is so huge, while their market value is miniscule in comparison. This is in fact a positive thing: we live in a world where scarcity, rarity, quality, are universally aspired for. Apple is sitting on top of that game. Additionally, being small allows Apple to be innovative.

    This article talks about how invisible mental models at mature businesses do not allow for innovation and long-term survival. It cites Microsoft’s missing the importance of the Internet.

    This artcle is probably a better formed argument, saying the same things - divergent thinking moves business forward, etc etc.

    Remember the story of how the MacIntosh came about? Steve Jobs personally formed his own internal team, pitted directly against the Apple II (IIRC) to come up with the MacIntosh, that turned out to be the future of all graphical personal computers. Now that’s a divergent business model, and one that I would bank on being around for a very very long time.

    Lastly, Apple is company based on user-centric design. Not on marketing, not on business ideas, not on financial models, not on anything someone would learn from business school. I think that is why creatives identify with the company and its products so much (often to the point of zealotry) But zealotry is the spice of life!

    Live it up and be passionate!

    Nathan had this to say on Aug 27, 2004 Posts: 219
  • Nathan, I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    Zealotry is not passion.  The word has definite negative connotations.  I have no problem with Apple enthusiasts and pro-Apple attitudes.  I have a problem with people who take that enthusiasm a step too far.

    If my assumption is true (that there are a large number of Apple zealots out there) then that easily explains the positive consumer reports.  If a zealot is asked for an opinion about the object of his/her zeal, the response is going to be overly positive. 

    “Mac as a cult is specifically why their brand value is so huge, while their market value is miniscule in comparison. This is in fact a positive thing: we live in a world where scarcity, rarity, quality, are universally aspired for. Apple is sitting on top of that game. Additionally, being small allows Apple to be innovative. “

    Re-read what you’ve written here.  The only part of it that I can agree with is the last sentence. Mac “as a cult”?  Mac isn’t a cult.  It’s a platform / operating system.  Apple is a company.  This “cult” mythos surrounding Apple may work positively for them within the cult community, but the point of my article is that it works negatively against them with anyone outside this group (which happens to be the majority).  Apple is a good brand because they make good products and in spite of the cult stuff.  Also, I don’t think that any of the things you list are “universally aspired for.”  There’re more cultures, more beliefs, more value systems, and more world-views in the world than yours and mine.  I know of very few “universals” and most of them (with the exception of taxes) are scientific and biological.

    Also, although cool looking aluminum is nice and “user-centric design”, I fail to see how wobbling and overheating warping Powerbooks is “user-centric design.”  You cannot praise the design and entirely look over the design flaws.

    I have dealt with these flaws since my first Mac, the Powerbook 5300CS, which suffered from overheating battery (which had to be replaced) and a faulty hinge, which had enough occurrences and enough complaint to warrant an Apple-sanctioned replacement program for the problem.  Neither of these production problems were fixed until a LOT of people complained about them.  I loved that Powerbook and I loved that Apple fixed their mistake.

    My point with this article is not to boo Apple; my point is to point out that if you really are enthusiastic about Apple, you should channel that energy into helping the company see its problem areas, rather than spending so much energy smiling and trying to cover these problems up.

    C.K. Sample III had this to say on Aug 27, 2004 Posts: 41
  • CK - You can disagree all you want, but you fail utterly at understanding a different point of view.

    You too easily dismiss the Consumer Report survey. A sample of 39,000 people is nothing to dismiss, and I must have to assume you are no expert in consumer surveys, or even did any basic research on whether you disagree with the survey methodology. Are you implying that of the Mac owners Consumer Reports surveyed all of them were mac zealots (or enough of them to vastly skew the numbers)?

    Zealotry does have negative connotations, but I attempted to explain that this happens in all aspects of life, it is a human condition that can save or sink. I hardly think mac zealots are going to sink Apple. Einstein was a zealot about theoretical physics - many great things came out of that condition. He also was a zealot about finding a theory of everything that resulted in the last half of his life nearly accomplishing nothing relative to his first half.

    Steve Jobs is a mac zealot, yet he manages to conceive, manage, and make profitable a company with billions in the bank, and millions of profit.

    I know the automotive field has been used too many times as a parallel - but it is always useful to look outside a market, and make correlations elsewhere to see if they make sense. Any given day, there are thousands of conversations over whether BMW is better than Ford, or better than Mercedes, or better than Chevrolet. Its the age old “independent” vs. “mass market” argument: but the BMW zealots (who will never admit that the new designs are ugly) never back down, never admit something else may be superior. Now does that hurt BMW? I’ve never heard anyone say that. In fact, I’d say it helps. BMW zealots build up car clubs (BMWCCA as an example) and events across the country, independent from BMW that champions the company and its products.

    Mac zealots do the same positive things: Mac User groups, Mac SIGs, MacWorld, all the Mac magazine are all run by Mac zealots.

    Now, as for the the Aluminum being “user-centric” you obviously have applied it to something that it is not applicable. User-centric design is anything that the user directly manipulates. A case material is not that.

    A great example of user-centric design is the ports on the PowerBook and iBook. In the not so distant past, the ports were placed in the back of the Ti PowerBook, with a superfluous cover. Well, Apple reversed this design acknowledging that there is a better, more useful solution - to put them on the side, with much easier access.

    The warping issue is a manufacturing issue. I truly hope it is resolved, and would think that it will be over time.

    As for your overheating battery, and most recently, the PB 15in overheating battery - is again a manufacturing problem: but most importantly it was not a design flaw by Apple. I fail to understand where Apple is held responsible for other company’s failure?

    It is pretty well known that companies with complex products only create replacement programs when enough people have problems that are consistently reproducible. The only way to get to this point is how you succintly described it “...were fixed until a LOT of people complained about them.”

    First of all, what is a “LOT” to you? You should research the total units shipped, compare them to the actual number of complaints, calculate number of possible unreported complaints, and compare that percentage with an industry standard fault rate. That’s I’m sure what Apple did, and you should do that before you slam them.

    Your comments could be a troll to bring out the zealot in me, and you know what - I got hooked.

    But the fact is, I dislike FUD and your comments is thick with them.

    Nathan had this to say on Aug 27, 2004 Posts: 219
  • Last comment: Apple making great products in spite of its cult stuff is absolutely the wrong perspective.

    Conventional thinking is the morass that is the general world.

    Apple’s divergent thinking, outside the box thinking, thinking different is precisely the reason they produce great products, and precisely why Apple and its fans are viewed as cult-like.

    Nathan had this to say on Aug 27, 2004 Posts: 219
  • Rarity and quality are universals, I don’t think you can argue against that one.

    Nathan had this to say on Aug 27, 2004 Posts: 219
  • I agree that Apple Zealots hurt Apple, but for different reasons.

    When I needed a new laptop (to replace my Windows one) last Fall I knew what software and hardware I needed.  My Mac zealot friends were no help whatsoever.  I kept hearing them tell me that I should learn to “think different” and that even though Macs were “more expensive” it was worth it to have a “real computer”.

    That was no help at all!  I didn’t want to “think different” (I had already been doing that with Windows).  I didn’t want to pay more for something simply to be part of the “in group”.  And I had been using a “real computer” for many years, albeit one bloated with viruses and spyware.  Plus, they kept telling me I should switch to Mac but wait for the next line of PowerBooks to come out because they would be “better” (of course, they had no clue what would be better, nor when the new PowerBooks would be released).

    Fortunately, while at a mall in Cambridge, I stopped by the Apple Store for the heck of it.  The well-designed, thin-and-light, 12” PowerBook immediately caught my eye.  Compared to the wintel laptops I had just seen at the Best Buy in the mall it became clear that this was what I wanted.  Apple Store staff were quite helpful in letting me know that everything I was planning to do with a Mac would be fully compatible with windows.  Plus, no viruses. No spyware. No “thinking different” as OSX was so intuitive and easy to learn.

    Plus, compared to wintel laptops that had similar specs the PowerBook was actually the same price.

    I have no desire to “not be part of the 90% of computer users who use Windows”... I just want a computer that works (mine does), on which I don’t have to “think different” (using OSX I don’t have to think like a windows computer, I just think like myself), and get my job done (I do, without all the downtime I was experiencing on windows).

    I guess a pet peeve of mine are all the Mac Zealots who tell people thinking of switching that they’re going to have to pay more than for a comparable windows machine (wrong!) and that they should wait for the next speedbump, processor change or whatever crazy rumor is floating around.  These are the people who are doing Apple a disservice.

    Just let people buy what they want and need and Apple will do just fine.  And more power to the Apple Stores for helping dispell the misinformation spread by Mac Zealots.

    DF in Boston had this to say on Aug 28, 2004 Posts: 15
  • Nathan,

    I think you are still missing what I am saying.  You say: “Last comment: Apple making great products in spite of its cult stuff is absolutely the wrong perspective.”  Now, I agree with you here.  The two things don’t have anything to do with one another.  I’m sure you’re going to retort, “But you said that!”  But, what I actually said was:
    “Apple is a good brand because they make good products and in spite of the cult stuff.”  There is a fundamental difference in these two affirmations, the one which I made and the one that you have misread me as making.  I didn’t posit “the cult stuff” as the anti-cause for the “good products” as your misreading of my sentence indicates.  I was arguing with your point that “Mac as a cult is specifically why their brand value is so huge”.  And what I actually say is that their good products are the reason why they are a good brand and have good brand value (I don’t think the “cult” aspect has anything to do with their brand).  Somewhere along the line, you lost the entire focus on “the brand” in your rebuttal to my rebuttal.  And, I would argue, that this is indicative of a larger misreading of my argument on your part.

    I’m not saying that Apple is evil.  I’m not saying that Apple products are bad.  I’m trying to make two points:  first I am saying that the cult surrounding Apple, which can be good for devoted Apple users, is bad for any would be switchers and can actually dissuade people from going with these machines that are better machines and this operating system which is a better operating system. 

    In addition to zealotry being bad press with grass-roots origins, I am attempting to highlight a second negative result of this support of Apple when it reaches a fanatical level of zealotry that flies in the face of reason and logic. 

    Apple still has some problems and due to their success and large size (despite their small market-share, Apple actually is a pretty big company), they need more truthful, critical responses from their customers to help them see these errors and to make correcting them cost-effective.

    Also, keep in mind that I am not talking about Steve Jobs and Apple employees while talking about Apple zealots.  As part of a company, passion for that company is a plus and zealotry can more often be smiled upon than frowned upon.  I don’t fault Apple-people for being pro-Apple.  That’s just good business. 

    I am talking specifically about consumers who aren’t being responsible consumers and aren’t holding up their end of the deal by holding Apple accountable for all the little small things.  Apple needs customers and consumers like this to help make things better.  They don’t need to be defended and shielded from every bit of criticism.  Criticism is a good thing and helps improve the object of criticism, just as I hope this discussion is helping to improve my article.

    C.K. Sample III had this to say on Aug 28, 2004 Posts: 41
  • DF in Boston,

    Thanks for your perspective.  Good points.  Your last two paragraphs are spot on.

    C.K. Sample III had this to say on Aug 28, 2004 Posts: 41
  • The so called zealots that defend blindly Apple on everything are very few. Sure for every negative issue Apple has, out of the hundreds or thousands reacting to a news, at least a couple of Mac user will have an overly positive spin on it, denying the problem.

    Now you can’t just add up all these skewed opinions to define “Mac Zealots” as people always blindly defend Apple. Each time, blind zealotry will affect only a few, and not always the same people. And much in the same way, everytime a problem happens at Apple you’ll see tons of “non mac users” having an overly negative spin on it with skewed facts, overlooking any positive aspects or disminishing factors. A part of Mac users will often try to compensate for this negative spin by reminding the “public” about external factors and positive aspects, and will not mention the negative parts because they feel it’s already said enough by other people and news outlets. Mac users are constantly forced to fight back FUD and myths about Apple so yes they can “look” like zealots to some uninformed wintel users.

    I guess that if being a Mac user is the only minority group you are part of, you fail to see that this kind of zealotry happens in any ostracized minority group. It’s human nature, you really think that your article will educate the few thousands of Mac zealots that think Apple can’t do no wrong? Like I said it’s only an impression that we get, these always blind Mac users are rare.

    If each single Mac user defends on average 2 out of 10 negative news about Apple, it doesn’t automaticaly mean that 20% of Mac users are blind zealots that defend anything.

    BuzzyBeetle had this to say on Aug 28, 2004 Posts: 3
  • I’d like to add, to reply to a few posts here. If you have uninformed Mac users friends well that’s just too sad, but since Mac users are a few and I guess you don’t have hundreds or thousands of Mac users friend (I don’t either smile ),  how can you deduce that most or all Mac users are like that? Or were you talking about Mac zealots only?

    If you define “zealotry” as a negative thing then I fail to see the point of saying “Mac Zealots are doing negative things…”

    One last thing, look at the price of the current flat panel iMac, compare it with wintels offering, you’ll see that it’s kind of overpriced. Now a week from now do the same comparaison with the iMac G5…As Mac users we have to “suffer” from a longer product refreshement rate while in the windows world every week/month a new cheaper and more powerfull computer is introduced.

    Anyway I guess I’m just acting like a zealot now smile

    BuzzyBeetle had this to say on Aug 28, 2004 Posts: 3
  • I think Buzzy is onto something: I did misread some of CK’s comments, and thought the issue was a little more complicated than it was. Well there were points in there that were perfectly debatable and I got wrapped up in those.

    In essence, CK was saying Mac zealots hurt Apple (zealotry like blind favoritism) and there are more zealots in the Mac camp than normal.

    Not sure if there are more zealots - but there are certainly more fanatics than most. The line is often fuzzy, but they can certainly give a bad impression at times.

    As a comment to the problem of making Apple accountable: I still believe the hardware/software quality is higher than anyone, and there probably is no room for judgement there.

    Raising the customer sales experience at Apple Stores and Resellers would help exponentially more. I’ve had numerous problems at both, and from anecdotal experience seems like a real problem. Not only is the service bad enough for current owners, I just can’t imagine how deep the negative impact is on prospective/new users.

    A lot of people rave over the Apple Stores, and it is impressive they have been the fastest retail chain to become profitable. Sure the glass staircases are uber-cool and the spare design is chic.

    But going to an Apple store and trying to buy or ask about something? Near impossible. The SF flagship, one that gets huge amounts of traffic, seems terribly understaffed and a Genius bar with a 2+ hour wait time. Not to mention you can’t even get on a machine to check it out because everyone is surfing the internet on them.

    I think there are real, serious, and deep flaws in the customer experience in the Apple Stores. They seem to be riding success on the pure fact they are new, and simply because accessibility to mac hardware has never been there in the past. At some point this will wear off, and service will be paramount.

    Nathan had this to say on Aug 29, 2004 Posts: 219
  • I have been accused of being a “Mac Zealot” by some, but when I had problems with my new iBook I was more than willing to send it back to Apple. Do I defend them?  Yes.  Do I criticize them? YES!  What I can’t stand is the Wintel zombies who still spout off about the Mac being dead.  That is when I’ll usually jump into an argument.

    baggs had this to say on Sep 06, 2004 Posts: 2
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